The largest enterprise cybersecurity company in the world, Cisco, has directed a $100,000 grant to North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics to create national K-12 academic resources that will help prepare today’s students to become leaders in the crucial field of cybersecurity, the school announced today.

“To have the support, expertise, and partnership of Cisco, which has such a major presence right here in Research Triangle Park, really validates and energizes our efforts to bring this field of learning to elementary and secondary students and teachers,” says Charlotte Dungan, the AI Program Architect with NCSSM’s Ryden Program for Innovation and Leadership in Artificial Intelligence. “One unique offering that we will put into the K-12 space are lessons designed to explore the intersection of artificial intelligence and cybersecurity. Our ultimate vision is to create ethical thinkers and leaders using these transformative technologies.”

The partnership with Cisco is the latest for NCSSM’s project, which supports integrating artificial intelligence knowledge and the associated ethical considerations throughout K-12 learning, helping teachers enhance existing courses by giving them high quality curated lesson resources and a supportive community to help them navigate the challenges of integrating new content.

Cisco shares that aim, says Cisco Vice President and Trust Strategy Officer Anthony Grieco.

“We must give young people in our communities the proper exposure to these pertinent global challenges and arm them with new skillsets throughout their educational journeys,” he writes in a blog post.

NCSSM was the only high school to receive funding, and Cisco also directed cybersecurity education grants to Duke University, North Carolina Central University, NC State University, and North Carolina A&T University.

Ryden Program executive director and NCSSM Dean of Engineering and Computer Science Joe LoBuglio says the school is putting the resources to work right away.

“We are starting now, and the funding is helping our team participate in the development of national K-12 academic content standards in cybersecurity,” LoBuglio says. “We are also developing curriculum at the elementary school level using what we know about the emerging standards and our ongoing research into topics appropriate for this level. We expect to incorporate the first cybersecurity learning opportunities this summer.”

Cybersecurity is an important part of the computer science standards recently adopted by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and NCSSM, through its Distance Education and Extended Programs division and its Ryden AI Program, looks forward to working with partners throughout the state to increase opportunities for students and teachers in this area, including having teaching certifications recognized in North Carolina, providing teacher professional development, providing innovative student instruction, and integrating AI/CS into other subject areas.

Only three out of every 1,000 North Carolina teachers are computer science teachers, and most schools do not yet have a clear path to providing computer science literacy for their students. The challenge is even greater when addressing the needs of Black and Hispanic students — a 2016 Gallup report revealed that they are less likely than White students to have access to classes or use a computer at home. Another Gallup report confirms that girls are only one-third as likely as boys to say they expect to pursue a career in computer science and only half as likely to be interested in learning computer science, and AIforTeachers aims to change these trends.

“This gift from Cisco is an enormous boost to this vital effort that allows us to expand our reach into K-12 cybersecurity education, and we look forward to partnering with them closely for many years to come,” Dungan says.

Grieco says he is encouraged by the innovative program at NCSSM and those at the universities Cisco is partnering with to empower young people in their communities.

“Cybersecurity is a team sport,” he says. “When a community rises, we all rise. We are honored to support these important programs, ensuring that the next generation of talent has cybersecurity expertise and is a priority for all.”